Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Limitations of the computer

Vanilla Walk from Matt Long on Vimeo.

For the last two weeks on Animation Mentor we've been doing a plain vanilla walk using the Ballie rig. I've done quite a few walk cycles in the past, and they're something I admit that I'm not great at, but I'm fairly comfortable with them and can do them satisfactorily. Or that was until I had to do them in Maya and with Ballie. For a beginning walk assignment this rig is a horrible torture device for us naive enough to think he is our friend.

The first of these two weeks was the blocking phase of the walk. Simple enough, do the contact positions, and passing positions with a couple of breakdowns, and plan for the arcs and anticipate the overlapping parts and any overshoots. So we did that, all was well, and then this week it came time to do all the inbetween frames. This is when the true Ballie showed his evil self.

The greatest aspect of hand drawn animation is that you have complete freedom to draw a character any way you want, and you can cheat in ways that are imperceptible to the viewer and allow you to maintain the motion and feel you like. In Maya if the rig you're using isn't built for it, it's nearly impossible to pull it off because the controls just aren't there to do it. This week that was the problem with Ballie's knees. We have an extremely limited amount of control over his knee positioning, so when making the animation all look good on the rest of the rig, the knees will be popping into seemingly random positions or moving backward in relation to the movement as the legs straighten in the middle passing position. (edit: I just noticed you can see an example of this in the above video at frames 34-40 on the front knee, the knee goes straight and pops backwards, this one managed to slip by) It became infuriating. The only way to rectify it was to change the rest of the animation to compensate for the knees' limitations resulting in many awkward walks or lack of fundamental basics in the walks.

In my case I had to shift the foot position in a way that removed the straight leg from the contact position, removing much of the contrast between the contact and down position. This is something that is so important in an animated walk that I tried to work around it at all costs, but it was a futile effort. In the end the CG animation industry's need for pristine and smooth movement with no jitters or pops left me with no other option but to alter the animation for the sake of the knees. So I was left with an awkward walk that moves smoothly with little to no knee pops but is lacking by my standards believable weight and nice spacing and is being critiqued by campus mentors as not having enough of a straight leg in the contact positions. Talk about a lesson in frustration, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

This was the pose for Week 8, "Strength." I chose to have Stu lifting a manhole cover. I went with the first pose because of the strain he shows, it didn't really work out with the rig though. Stu lacks shoulder controls so I couldn't use them to increase the sense of strain, and he doesn't really have a rib cage either, so I had to exaggerate the pose more. Ultimately my mentor thought it was too much, felt broken, and wanted me to do pose 11 instead, or 4 or 9. I went with 11 due to time constraints but it seems a bit bland to me and lacks a sense of actual strength.
Week 9's pose was "Concern" This was a difficult one to think up. In the end I decided the best way to show concern was to show the person or thing Stu should be concerned about, and then come up with a small scene that will tell a little story. So here's Stu checking up on Tailor.